Revealed: How much Ireland paid out in child welfare benefits to families in other EU countries
Ireland's bill for EU child benefits rockets to €40m
Ireland has paid out almost €40m in child welfare benefits to families living in other European Union countries over the past three years.
The vast majority was paid to the families of more than 4,500 children living in Poland who are entitled to €140 a month per child from the Irish government.
The highest rate of child welfare in Poland is €30 and, unlike in Ireland, families are means tested.
EU citizens working in Ireland who have children in their home countries are entitled to €140 a month for each child. The payment of child benefits to the children of migrant workers has been a contentious issue among EU member states for years and was at the centre of the Brexit debate in the UK before last year's referendum. Britain pays more than £30m in child benefits annually for 34,000 children who live elsewhere in the EU.
The second highest amount of Irish child welfare goes to the UK where the families of more than 1,848 children receive benefits from the Government every month.
The third highest amount is paid to the families of 482 children in Lithuania, where the top rate of child benefit paid to parents living in the country is €34. The lowest rate is €11.38.
Ireland also pays €140 a month for 332 children in Romania where the local rate is €19. Some 182 children in Latvia receive the Irish child benefit rate - the top local payment is €34.14.
In total, Ireland pays benefits to the families of 7,938 children living in other EU countries. The total cost has increased from €11.85m in 2014 to €13.27m last year.
At an EU Employment and Social Policy Council meeting in Brussels last Friday, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar called for welfare benefits to be linked to the rates paid in the country where the child is living.
Mr Varadkar told the meeting that Ireland was in favour of the principle of supporting migrant workers' children.
However, the minister said the EU welfare system needed to be amended to ensure child welfare payments "reflect the economic and social conditions" in the child's home state.
He said benefits should be index-linked to reflect the standard of living and child welfare rates in the country where the children are living.
"Given the considerable differences in the types of family benefits provided, the levels of such benefits and the large variations in the cost of living as between different member states, the export of these benefits can, in some cases, lead to overcompensation and compensation below the level of the cost of living in other cases," he said.
Mr Varadkar said the EU Commission's recent impact assessment did not "represent a fair and equitable distribution of the financial burden" of the welfare rules among member states. "Ireland considers that too much focus has been given in the proposals to extending the exportability of benefits at the expense of adequately recognising the financial and administrative burdens," he said.
Before the Brexit referendum former British prime minister David Cameron discussed the introduction of an indexation system for the payment of welfare from the UK to children living in other member states. Mr Varadkar believes this proposal should also be offered to other EU countries if they wished to avail of it.
Germany formally recommended the introduction of an indexation system last week. The Austrian and Danish governments are also in favour of introducing similar measures.